Dragons in the Vietnamese Culture

Dragons appearing in the folklore and mythology of the Vietnamese underwent visual and symbolic transformations affected by the particular dynasty of that time. Chinese dragon myths also played an important role in the shaping of their tales. However, ancient creation myths state that the Vietnamese people descended from a dragon and a fairy. In this article, you will learn some of the associations of the Vietnamese culture and the majestic creatures of popular legends.

The Transformation of the Vietnamese Dragon

The first records of the Vietnamese dragon show a prehistoric depiction of a creature with the blended features of a snake, lizard, crocodile, and bird. History tells us that the Vietnamese established their homes close to rivers. The crocodile played an important role in their lives and were viewed as the first kind of ‘dragon.’

Archeologists have uncovered a variety of dragon artifacts. Some show a combination of a crocodile and dragon , with the head of a crocodile and the body of a snake. Some objects have combined the features of a cat and dragon. In Bac Ninh, a glazed terracotta item was uncovered, where the dragon possessed a long neck, wings, backfin, whiskers, and fur. The image of the dragon would continue to progress and shift as time passed. A couple of changes include:

1. Linked to the Ngo Dynasty (938,965), a brick discovered in Co Loa showed a short dragon-like creature with the body of a cat and a backfin similar to a fish.

2. A slimmer version of a dragon with flowing details represented the Ly Dynasty (1010,1225) and was associated with the King. This is the time period where the feudal culture of Vietnam was first established. The Dynasty saw the spread of Buddhism and the opening of the first feudal university. The body of the dragon was comprised of 12 sections, which were meant to represent the 12 months of the year. On the back of the dragon, small fins were found.

Other details of this dragon include a long mane, beard, prominent eyes, and a crest on the nose that pointed forward. This version of the dragon did not have any horns. The dragon stood on small, thin legs that planted firmly into the ground by three toes. A long, thin tongue came out of the jaw of the dragon when it was opened wide. In their mouths, people believed that dragons kept gems or jewels , seen as a symbol of nobility and knowledge. The dragons of this time period were thought to possess the ability to change weather conditions, as well as affect the outcome of crops.

3. The Tran Dynasty (1225,1400) was comparable to the Ly Dynasty dragon, but the creature took on a more fearless persona. Arms and horns were added to this beast, which also displayed a fiery, shorter crest. The tail thins out at the end of its fatter, curved body. Tails were varied during this time period. Sometimes, it was straight with a point at the end, while other times, the tail spiraled. The body also showed different patterns of scales.